UK relaunches repository site selection process

20 December 2018

The UK has launched a new search for a site to host the country's proposed geological disposal facility for high-level radioactive waste. A previous search process ground to a halt in 2013.

An artistic impression of how a UK repository could look (Image: RWM)

The policy paper, Implementing Geological Disposal: Working with Communities: An updated framework for the long-term management of higher activity radioactive waste, was published yesterday.

In a written statement to the House of Commons yesterday, Richard Harrington, parliamentary under-secretary of state at the UK's Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), said: "This document sets out the government's overarching policy framework for managing higher activity radioactive waste through implementing geological disposal and how we will work with communities to find a location for a geological disposal facility. Alongside publishing this policy paper, the government is also today launching a new national consent-based process to find a site to host a geological disposal facility (GDF)."

Geological disposal involves placing radioactive wastes deep within a suitable rock formation where the rock formation provides long-term protection by acting as a barrier against escape of radioactivity and by isolating the waste from effects at the surface such as climate change. There is no facility currently available in the UK.

Harrington added, "The GDF will be a multi-billion-pound infrastructure investment and will provide skilled jobs and benefits to the community that hosts it for more than 100 years. Delivering a GDF to dispose permanently of the UK radioactive waste inventory is a responsible public service to future generations and will contribute to the government's Industrial Strategy, which identified the key role the nuclear sector has in increasing productivity and driving clean growth."

There is no preferred location for the GDF, Harrington noted, adding that a consent-based process is being adopted to identify a suitable host area.

"A suitable site will be determined jointly by the willingness of a community to host a GDF and the suitability of the geology in the area. The process to find a location for the GDF will be led by RWM (Radioactive Waste Management Ltd, a subsidiary of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority), who will work in partnership with local authorities and other community representatives to find a suitable location. Local authorities will have a key role in the decision-making process and will be required to test public support in the local area for a GDF being located there before construction can proceed."

Malcolm Morley, Chairman of RWM's Board of Directors, said: "RWM recognises that this nationally important project needs to contribute positively to the community within which it is located. Working with communities will be at the very centre of its approach to the delivery of the GDF."

RWM Managing Director Bruce McKirdy added, "Our highly experienced team has been preparing for this vital project to provide a long-term solution for the management of higher activity radioactive waste. We will now embark upon an engagement programme to help individuals, businesses and communities understand how they can get involved."

David Peattie, CEO of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, said: "Although the UK has made significant progress in dealing with the radioactive waste left over from decades of nuclear activities, today's announcement is a vital step towards finally cleaning-up our nuclear legacy."

"Geological disposal is the best strategy for the long term safe and secure management of radiological waste and is the solution being adopted internationally," said Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the Nuclear Industry Association. "It is right communities are being placed at the centre of the process of finding the best sites for geological disposal facilities. The creation and success of the facilities relies on partnerships with local communities."

During an earlier site selection process, two communities in Cumbria - Copeland and Allerdale - had expressed interest in hosting a repository, but the process stopped in January 2013 when the local county council voted against moving to the next stage of the process.

The UK government in July 2014 published its framework policy for the long-term management of higher activity radioactive waste, including details of how it intends to work with interested communities to site a geological disposal facility.

BEIS launched two consultations on the management of radioactive waste in January this year. The consultations were on a draft national policy statement (NPS) for geological disposal infrastructure and on Working with Communities as part of the search for a host for the GDF. Both consultations ran until 19 April. The draft NPS consultation applied to England only.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News